Premier League review: Why this was a big moment for Manchester United - Gary Neville
The 15th round of Premier League matches saw leaders Chelsea cement their status as title favourites as they secured a ninth successive win by seeing off West Brom, yet there were talking points aplenty in a weekend that produced 36 goals in ten action packed matches.
GARY NEVILLE: THIS WAS A BIG MOMENT FOR UNITED
After weeks of frustration and near misses, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho finally registered a victory against one of the top sides in the Premier League as they beat Tottenham 1-0 at Old Trafford on Sunday.
It may not have been the convincing victory United fans have been waiting for, but the club’s former defender Gary Neville believes it could be a major turning point in their season.
“This was a big moment,” stated Neville on the Sky Sports podcast. “That was the first really big win in the league for Jose Mourinho and they will gain a lot of confidence from it.
“They couldn’t afford to lose the game because they would have been nine points behind (Tottenham) if they had lost, but they are only three points behind now, other teams have dropped some points this weekend and United should think - here we go now.
“Over the last few weeks, Mourinho has been criticised at times and when you don’t win games and keep saying it will come, it will come, you can look a little foolish as a coach.
“But I like this team much more than the team of last season, even if they have less points in comparison. There is better balance in this team and even though the defence does not look great on paper, it is performing really, really well.
“Mourinho has stumbled across something with this defence and they have to kick on from here and go on a winning run.”
Tottenham's record against top five sides away from home since 2006/07 season:— Kevin Palmer (@RealKevinPalmer) December 11, 2016
27 points from a possible 138 #COYS
The pace of Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan has given United a fresh dimension in their last couple of matches, with Juan Mata suddenly looking like the outsider in a Mourinho set-up that appear to be performing with more fluidity in the Spaniard’s absence, with positives applied to the United narrative for the first time this season.
As for Tottenham, they are now ten points adrift of Premier League leaders Chelsea after a performance at Old Trafford that lacked a cutting edge, with their inability to perform against their closest rivals in away games exposed once again.
KLOPP AND GUARDIOLA’S BACKING WRONG ONES
Praise has been lavished on Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and his Manchester City rival Pep Guardiola at different stages of this Premier League season, yet both appear to have made the same crucial mistake by putting their faith in the wrong goalkeepers.
As Lloris Karius came under fire once more after his uncertain display in Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with West Ham, Anfield great Jamie Carragher was among those who joined the chorus calling for Simon Mignolet to make a return between the sticks for the Reds.
“The ‘keeper got criticism last week and has come out and had a pop at Gary Neville and mentioned me and my advice would be: ‘Shut up and just do your job’. His confidence is obviously all over the place,” suggested the Sky pundit.
Former Manchester United and Everton defender Phil Neville was equally scathing in his criticism of Karius as he spoke to the BBC.
Meanwhile, City’s disheveled defence continue to stumble under Guardiola’s watch, with the uneasy presence of Claudio Bravo as their first choice keeper doing little to settle a defensive line that were blown away by Leicester in Saturday evening’s improbable 4-2 defeat.
Guardiola made a big statement when he replaced Joe Hart with Bravo last summer, but that decision has backfired so far in an attractive team that appears to lack a physical edge required to thrive in the Premier League.
Bloody hell! Not sure Bravo could save a fiver.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) December 10, 2016
Klopp and Guardiola may be masters of piecing together teams that can play scintillating attacking football, but they appear to share a blind spot identifying the right candidate to be their last line of defence.
HENDRICK’S MAGIC MOMENT
When a list is compiled of the best Premier League goal scored by a Republic of Ireland internationals, Jeff Hendrick’s sublime effort against Bournemouth on Saturday will be worthy of serious consideration for top spot.
Robbie Keane’s fine goal for Liverpool against Arsenal in December 2008 is another that springs to mind as a contender, but that explosive effort at Emirates Stadium lacked some of the subtly applied by Hendrick to his wonder strike.
How Martin O’Neill and Ireland could do with one of those Hendrick specials in the crucial World Cup qualifier against Wales in Dublin next March.
NEXT ON THE AGENDA
We have a full programme of Premier League matches on Monday and Tuesday this week, with some mouthwatering matches to ease us into the hectic festive season.
Arsenal’s trip to Everton is a fixture that stands out from the pack on Tuesday, with the alarming slump being experienced by Ronald Koeman’s side - they have won just one of their last 11 matches - needing to be halted in front of the Goodison Park faithful.
Crystal Palace’s home game against Manchester United will test the improved form being shown by Mourinho’s side, with Palace in danger of slipping into the relegation zone as they continue to leak goals at an alarming rate.
Meanwhile, Watford get the chance to test a fragile Manchester City defence at the Etihad Stadium, with the Hornets heading into that game in seventh place after an impressive run of form continues with a win against Everton on Saturday.
In this unfathomable Premier League season, predicting what happens next is impossible task.
INDEPENDENT.IE TEAM OF THE WEEK
Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)
Hector Bellerin (Arsenal)
Gary Cahill (Chelsea)
Phil Jones (Manchester United)
Stephen Ward (Burnley)
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)
Jeff Hendrick (Burnley)
Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Manchester United)
Stefano Okaka (Watford)
Diego Costa (Chelsea)
Jamie Vardy (Leicester)